The furniture industry has recognized for years that women make the majority of decisions when it comes to purchasing furnishings for their home.
And this year, for the first time in history, women, both veterans of running small, independent stores, hold the top spots in the sector’s major retail alliances, the National Home Furnishings and Western Home Furnishings association.
VALERIE WATTERS , president of Valerie’s Furniture & Accents in Cave Creek, Ariz., is 2013 WHFA president; while Cherie Rose , president of Cherie Rose Collection in Los Gatos, Calif., is this year’s NHFA president.
To kick off the New Year, Home Furnishings Business ran a few questions by the two leaders to get their take on what lies ahead. Read on for their responses.
HFB: For the first time ever, women hold the top leadership positions in both the NHFA and the WHFA. What’s the potential impact for the home furnishings retail sector in general; and what does that say to you as a furniture retailer?
CHERIE ROSE: The fact that two women, each with a single store in a small town, have become president says everything about our industry and the people that are involved.
From the time I first joined in my 20’s in the mid 90’s, I was always treated as an equal. It didn’t matter if they were a big box store, a multi-store chain or a so-called “good old boy,” I always felt my ideas and enthusiasm for our industry was appreciated and welcomed.
In fact, their mentoring had a huge influence in my growth not only a businesswoman but also as a leader in our industry.
VALERIE WATTERS: To me, the impact is that we can help get more women involved in what goes on in the industry. I’d like to see more women running the larger stores—more women are getting involved, but you really don’t see them in many power positions in the top 100 retailers.
Cherie and I both run our own stores, I’ve been doing this for 24 years, so hopefully it will inspire more women to say, “Hey, I can do that.”
It also may spark a fashion-forward movement, because that’s where women are. The industry as a whole needs to find that passion and excitement, and translate that to consumers so we can get more of their disposable dollars.
I’m encouraged—there are 114 young women now on the Next Generation Now list, and that’s phenomenal. We need to get more young people committed to the business.
HFB: How do you feel about the prospects for furniture retailing in 2013 and why?
CR: I am optimistic and look forward to an incredible 2013. I am fortunate to be located in the heart of Silicon Valley. Our local economy is very robust and we continue to have increased foot traffic and in home appointments.
We are a design-oriented store, and so 85 percent of our sales are special-order and result from our in-home consultations.
VW: I was feeling pretty good about it, but in the fourth quarter—reading about spending being down in the holidays, the current administration, the taxes we may see next year—it’s a little scary.
One of the positives that I feel is a movement toward bringing the industry home to the USA. So many of the (vendors) aren’t all China now; and I like the fact that … Las Vegas and High Point markets have a made-in-America movement going on.
This is resonating with consumers—I’ve concentrated on made-in-America for 24 years at my store, and four or five years ago, people didn’t care. They wanted the cheapest price for the look.
Now they’re saying, “Made in the USA? Good for you!” I read where people will pay up to 20 percent more now for a U.S.-made product, and I love the sound of that.
HFB: What are the greatest challenges facing your respective organizations in the coming year, and how will you use your association leadership to address those?
CR: As an association we are faced with the same economic challenges as the bulk of our industry.
Stores are still continuing to go out of business, and so our membership numbers are down. But I have discovered that those of us who have survived the hardest challenges of our lifetime are coming out stronger than ever, and as a result our industry will follow.
VW: For me, my enthusiasm for WHFA is its relevance as an association. One of the biggest challenges is getting smaller stores to join and get involved.
So many stores have scaled back so much that they can’t or won’t afford to join an association.
If stores see the advantage of being involved, that if you learn more and that’s how you grow your business, it will help.
HFB: What are the opportunities facing your respective organizations in the coming year, and how will you use your association leadership to address those?
CR: The majority of our members are small businesses such as my and Valerie’s, and I feel we can inspire them to be actively involved in our association while maintaining their own businesses.
Another thing I wanted to mention is that Valerie and I are creating a blog post that will be related to our magazine’s (Retailer Now) main theme of the month. It will be a “conversation” format. The idea is to get more interaction and participation in industry issues thereby keeping our membership more involved.
VW: Stores are starting to open up now, and that’s an opportunity for growth. The big opportunity is that Cherie and I get along, and we like to share. We need to reach out to other industry organizations to work for the greater good of everyone. If the organizations pull together, that will lead to more education, more services and programs.
Women are good at pulling people and things together. Cherie and I nurture relationships—we like the collaboration, we like working together, and we play off each other.
HFB: What do you like to do in your free time?
CR: My free time is spent traveling (especially love Hawaii and go several times a year) and enjoying my four children and two grandchildren.
Working in this industry is my passion, and a day never goes by that I don’t look forward to going to my store and visiting with all of our wonderful clients and sharing in my employees’ successes.
VW: The store’s been my life, but I rescue animals—I have a little ranch, and I take in animals, especially older ones, and nurse them to health.
I love hiking and horseback riding, and I do a lot of volunteer work in the community. I stay pretty busy.